Helping Young Children Become Citizens of the World
As we move through the 21st century, the world our children will inherit is becoming more and more of a global village. Knowing how to negotiate in the contemporary world presents challenges for children that we need to help them master.
Global education gives us a framework for teaching children the responsibilities of being a world citizen. It helps children find their place in the world community, where they can accept differences among cultures and peoples. It should not be an add-on activity, or a once-a-year event, but one that integrates international themes into the daily curriculum.
A global education takes traditional multicultural education a step further. While multicultural education studies the world in the child's local community, global education locates the child and his particular community within the world. But both promote the idea of interdependence through cooperative experiences by living in a global community.
A GLOBAL CLASSROOM
You can transform your classroom into a global community where children gather to learn about their planet, its people, and habitats; respect the beliefs of others; contribute ideas; and make responsible choices. These are all responsibilities of world citizens. A global community permits children to share a sense of belonging in a climate that is safe, accepting of one another, and inclusive of diverse cultures.
Organize your class so that:
- All children have a voice. Stories read daily reflect the cultures and people of different times and places.
- Teaching materials accurately portray the world's diversity. Families are welcome - multicultural visitors are encouraged to share their stories, languages, manners, and expertise.
The tone of your global classroom community is reflected in the materials you select. Avoid stereotypes when selecting international images for your classroom. Remember not all children in Hawaii dance in grass skirts, children in Alaska might be native Inuits or recent immigrants, and Africa is a continent, not a country. A global community is an inclusive place for all children with special equipment and furniture for the physically challenged child, listening stations with stories and music in many languages that include representation of English Language Learners' homes, and a spot where each child can retreat for a moment of solitude and call her own.
ALL AROUND THE CLASSROOM
A global community is a responsive place where children cooperate with their peers, are encouraged to try new tasks, and take turns in leading and following. As the teacher, you are the role model for the compassion and empathy children need in order to begin seeing the world through the eyes of others. The following strategies will help you get started in globalizing your classroom. As with any good early childhood practice, begin by teaching what is familiar to children.
- Enrich your literacy program by designating a "global" bookshelf in your reading center. On a rotating basis, stack the shelf with stories representing different cultures, written in a variety of languages and telling tales from around the globe. You might include a collection of alphabet books depicting the many alphabets of world languages, and then switch to counting books that illustrate how people count in different ways. When selecting books in languages written with other characters, such as Hebrew, Arabic, or Japanese, make sure the book opens from left to right. Point out to children how languages are organized so children realize books are written in many ways rather than in a "right" or "wrong" way. Legends from both American minority cultures and world cultures bring to the shelf a rich array of heroes and heroines, as well as explanations of how the world works. Connect the books to topics and skills you are teaching.
- Since toys reflect societies' multiple values, belief systems, and lifestyles, they are used universally as tools for teaching global citizenship. Toys can also be an effective way to help children develop the math skills of observation and classification. Choose samples for your collection that represent the commonalities, as well as the differences, in the world's toys. Use the toys for classification activities. This will help children discover that most toys of the world are similar. The cultural uniqueness of a toy often lies in its presentation or decoration. For example, toys can be the plastic, color-coded stacking cups found in the U.S., intricately decorated paper boxes from Japan, or dolls from Russia. Toys such as dolls, cars, trucks, action figures, and spaceships (to name a few) can be found globally. Children can keep tally sheets of the most common toys in the collection, where the toys were made, and countries represented. Since the toy industry is international, send for catalogs from different countries for children to peruse and use in making a pictorial graph of toys representing the nations of die world.
- Music is a universal language and a way for people to articulate their joy and sorrow, wishes and dreams, as well as national and cultural pride. Being a world citizen requires respect for how people everywhere communicate. Play music from a variety of cultures during a quiet time. While children are listening, suggest they think about the feelings the music evokes. Let them capture their reactions in artistic expressions using different materials, colors, and forms. Build children's repertoire with contemporary musical renditions, as well as traditional favorites to extend their appreciation of diversity in music.
- Every family has a special culture. Help children identify their own family heritage. Involve their families in making a "Family Heritage Kit" that includes items such as photos of family, friends, and pets, samples of favorite foods, and cultural artifacts. A family cultural heritage is not restricted to ethnicity, race, religion, or home language. It also includes the celebrations that make a family unique naming ceremonies, holidays, birthdays, and gatherings. Invite children to share their kits with their classmates. Set up a family corner in your classroom to exhibit the kits. Maintain the corner for on-going family contributions that highlight important aspects of their lives throughout the school year.
EXPLORING THE WORLD WITH MAPS
Part of helping young children learn to be global citizens is helping them locate where they live, as well as other places they study and visit. Maps are a great way to teach children the concept of location. But developing mapping skills with young children takes time. Symbolic representations of the world are not always easy for children to understand. The younger the child, the more concrete the map should be. Keep a variety of maps on hand in your classroom. Since maps can depict many attributes of a place, such as physical characteristics, population density, and relative size, provide a variety for children to explore.